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Practicing Speech with Aphasia After a Brain Injury

December 03, 2020

Just five days after Danielle Plomaritas had her third child, she fell into a coma for nearly a month due to a stroke.

Danielle was a 32-year-old high school biology teacher in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, and was pursuing her Ph.D. in education at Texas Tech when she had her stroke. She and her husband were excited to welcome their third little boy into the world in October 2018, but a combination of high blood pressure and giving birth resulted in the stroke several days after her son was born.

Danielle Plomaritas at Craig Hospital

The very night of the stroke, Danielle underwent major surgery to remove a portion of her skull, called a bone flap, because of how much her brain had swelled. “I went to Craig with only half a skull,” Danielle explains. “The rest was in next to my pelvis.” The bone flap that had been removed was stored in her abdomen until she was ready for the surgery to put it back. Two months after arriving at Craig Hospital for her brain injury rehabilitation, Danielle had the second surgery to replace the removed portion of her skull.

When Danielle left Craig, she was using a wheelchair to help her get around, and just three months later she was practicing walking by using a leg brace. As she continued to make progress with mobility and communication, Danielle decided in early 2020 that she wanted to participate in an aphasia program to improve her comprehension and speaking skills. "I can't go to school," Danielle says. "I understand fine, but my response back will be difficult." She was considering a number of aphasia programs across the U.S. when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and when she learned that the Craig Hospital Aphasia Therapy (CHAT) Program was going virtual, she knew that was what she wanted to do.

"It's like being with a friend," Danielle says about working with Kristen Mascareñas Wendling, MA, CCC-SLP, Craig's Aphasia Program Coordinator. "I had her, inpatient, almost 1.5 years [ago]."

Craig Grad Aphasia Therapy Telehealth Craig Hospital

With the flexibility of participating in the program from her parents' home in New Mexico via Zoom, and being able to have two days of in-person sessions in August with Kristen, Danielle says that her experience with the CHAT Program was "just wonderful," with much progress through intensive therapy to show for it. "Danielle is an incredible advocate for herself," Kristen shares. "She directly asked for what she needed. This was so great to see with someone who has aphasia and may have difficulty communicating his/her needs directly."

Once the pandemic is over, Danielle is looking forward to getting out and about again, including volunteering at her local library's discount book shop and returning to her regular occupational, speech and physical therapy sessions. Danielle is a lifelong learner and plans to keep on challenging herself to grow as a mother, wife, community member and stroke survivor.